"I wasn't interested in history as a kid. I wish people like Michael were around when I was a kid, to make history come alive," said Roache, a veteran English actor probably best known to American audiences as Assistant District Attorney Michael Cutter on the last three seasons of "Law & Order."
Roache's Ecbert is a calculating strategist, as becomes quickly obvious in his first face-to-face meeting with Ragnar in the king's sauna.
"Michael puts Ragnar and Ecbert together in a bath, for a scene of two men weighing each other up," Roache said. "But the two don't see each other again until the battlefield. There's quite a conflict coming at season's end."
Roache says he's looking forward to his character growing closer to Ragnar and the other Vikings, whether as ally or enemy. "In many ways I feel like I'm in a TV show called 'Saxons,'" he said with a smile. "I'm looking forward to the moment where these two worlds collide."
For 21-year-old Ludwig, the bonding with star Fimmel, an earthy-spoken Aussie, has been easy — and mutually crude.
"Travis and I are really tight. It's like one big prank war when you get on the set. You've just got to watch out," Ludwig said. "I took a dump in his trailer yesterday. He got me the day before, so I had to get him back. It's a guy kind of thing."
So are the frequent fight scenes. Ludwig already learned diving, rolling and swordplay for "The Hunger Games," and got buffed up for his recent turn as a doomed Navy SEAL in Mark Wahlberg's "Lone Survivor."
When he had to film a fight-training scene with Standen — a 6-foot-2 expert swordsman himself, dating to his teenage years as a Robin Hood performer in a Sherwood Forest show — neither wanted to hold back.
"The directors and Michael want to make it real, so the fighting is brutal if the actors play ball," he said. "You never know on set how much an actor will give in scenes that are physical. Some people don't have the ability or means to go that extra mile. With Clive we both agree, let's make this as realistic as possible."
Ludwig said he ended up getting thrown shirtless into frigid water, and on to sharp rocks, repeatedly. "By the end of filming, I was freezing, I had cuts all over my back — but the scene looks incredible."
While the first season got broadly positive reviews, it won little industry recognition, even for costume designer Joan Bergin's widely praised custom outfits for each character. She did win an Emmy for "The Tudors."
The lack of Emmy recognition, Hirst said, "was ridiculous."
"We're out here in Ireland, to some extent a disadvantage, because we don't bump into all these guys on Hollywood Boulevard who are voting with their pals," he said. "But this is a big show and pretty soon, no one is going to be able to ignore it."